Sixty-six lengths is a lot of time to think.

Patti Behler
Junior Emily Brunemann is a level above most of the competition she faces. She posted the second-fastest Division I time in the 1,650-yard freestyle this season. (Peter Schottenfels/Daily)

For junior Emily Brunemann, the mental approach to swimming is just as important as her technique in the 1,650-yard freestyle.

And this season, she’s getting some mandatory assistance. The entire Michigan women’s swimming and diving team is supplementing its training with readings from Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

The book focuses on achieving success through a ‘growth mindset’ rather than a ‘fixed mindset.’ Instead of seeing ability as fixed, a growth mindset treats success as a work in progress.

“The most important thing is preparing yourself to do the best that you can do and learning to take great joy in that,” Michigan coach Jim Richardson said “It kind of ties into this ‘no fear’ philosophy – second place is the first loser. That’s just complete baloney.”

But enhancing her mental approach to swimming is nothing new for Brunemann. Even before this season started, she wanted to refine the mental side of her swimming and took responsibility for her own improvement.

Last summer, Brunemann trained in Colorado and roomed with fellow Club Wolverine teammate Kalyn Keller. A 2004 Olympian and former American record holder in the 1,500-meter freestyle, the 23-year-old Keller, shared some wise words with her roommate.

Keller advised her to focus on swimming as a whole. Instead of worrying about the race or other swimmers, she told Brunemann to focus on herself.

“Last summer, it really clicked,” Brunemann said. “I understood what I needed to do – how to train and how to approach swimming so that I could enjoy it and still do well.”

Keller’s advice helped. In August, Brunemann claimed the 1,500-meter freestyle national title at the 2007 ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships in Indianapolis. Not only did she touch the wall nearly eight seconds ahead of the pack, she beat her personal best time in the event by eight seconds.

Fresh off national success, Brunemann returned to Ann Arbor with an open mind.

“Now, when I’m having a bad practice (I look) at it that I can always improve from this instead of . looking at all of the negative aspects,” Brunemann said.

In many meets this season, Brunemann has had to focus on herself. After hammering out an early lead in the mile, she usually swims solo. In each of her four wins in the mile, she has finished at least ten seconds ahead of the nearest competitor.

Brunemann posted the second-fastest NCAA Division I time in the 1,650-yard freestyle this season last November at the Texas A&M Invitational, and she rarely faces serious competition. But she never lets up, swimming each race as if every swimmer were right on her tail.

Heading into the Big Ten Championships scheduled for Feb. 20-23 in Columbus, Michigan will face its stiffest distance competition this season. Minnesota’s Yuen Kobayashi has come close to Brunemann, posting a mile time two seconds slower than Brunemann’s best.

But with her growth mindset in place, Brunemann can focus on one swimmer – herself.

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